Pete Lockett Interview
Learning From the Greatest
Pete Lockett is one of the most versatile multi-percussionists in the world and has immersed himself in percussion and drums from every part of the globe, from Indian to Arabic and from Japanese to Latin. His resume is packed with some of music’s biggest names – Björk, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Jeff Beck, Sinéad O’Connor – and he continues to write and record in every genre you can think of.
Pete took some time out of his busy schedule to share some insights from his diverse and lengthy career and introduce us to the world of Indian rhythms:
How did you first get into drumming?
It was a bizarre thing; I was just walking past a drum shop and I thought, I’ll have a drum lesson, for no readily explainable reason. I went in and it made sense to me in a way that other things in my life hadn’t before, you know, education or anything like that. I was aged 19 and was soon a drummer in a punk rock band. Similarly, my decision to transform from punk rock kit player to Tabla dude was totally unexpected.
I was playing in a punk band on the London rock scene, and I accidentally stumbled across an Indian gig. It was Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ali Akbar Khan, and it was amazing. I didn’t know what they were doing. When you see tabla for the first time, a good player, it’s the most amazing thing, it’s stunning. I had no concept of what he was doing, but that made an impact on me. Later I saw tabla lessons advertised in the local adult education magazine, and I was down there like a shot. Of course, the actual transformation took somewhat longer, many years of dedicated study, in fact.
What were your early influences?
I started out with Punk, Sex Pistols to the Damned, then moved on to be a huge MOON fan. I was smashing up my drums at gigs so that was all part of that influence. Then I moved on to be influenced by ‘technical’ players of the moment, Simon Phillips, Steve Gadd etc. From there I hit the Indian trail so started listening to the great Indian masters.
When did you start to get excited about percussion and what made you switch from drum set player to multi-percussionist?
I have never ‘switched’ as such. I just got known for percussion and so focus more on that. It has taken over to say the least. I still keep my hand in with drum set on the odd session. My book, ‘Indian Rhythms for Drumset’ on Hudson is primarily a drum set book derived from percussion ideas. It gives a very different approach to percussion when you start out as a drum set player. There is a lot more emphasis on the back beat which I like to bring into my percussion stuff.
You’ve immersed yourself in and mastered the Indian Rhythmic system which is very challenging, especially for westerners. Can you give us a brief introduction to the system?
As opposed to a system of written notation, Indian percussionists use a vocabulary, or syllables to represent the patterns they play. These words are intended to mimic the sounds that come from the drums. Each stroke and combination of strokes has its own word or set of words. It is possible to look at these words as an alphabet of phrases, out of which longer and longer patterns are composed.
The words have no semantic meaning apart from the patterns they represent. Generally these words are the first thing a student learns when learning a new composition. Once they get familiar with the words of a composition they go on to playing it on the drums. It splits the difficulty of learning a new piece into two, first leaning the rhythm of it and then the fingering and note articulation.
The vocabulary you find in North Indian, Hindustani percussion is notably different from that of South Indian, Carnatic percussion, both in the words they use and also in the general construction of the rhythmic compositional system.
Besides this the rhythmic systems developed from this have been mastered over hundreds of years and are really truly a gold mine of rhythm waiting to be discovered by the rest of the music world. Indian rhythm is very modular and uses lots of building blocks. 9,9,9,5 for example equals 32 so would work in 4/4 whilst 9,9,5,5 equals 28 and would work in 7/4. Then you could do 9,5,5,9 or 5,9,9,5 or 9,5,9,9,5,9,5,5, or any of millions of permutations. As long as you keep track of the units mathmatically you can go way over the bar lines and away from the beat.
What kind of practice/exercises can we do to develop our vocabulary and fluidity in this style?
My book is a good starting place!! ☺ Fluidity in any area comes from a mass of experience with the style. By spending time with a new language one begins to get comfortable with the whole approach to the language and also all the cultural formalities that surround that whole package. Indian rhythm is no different. It is a gold mine of Linear rhythm.
What artists, albums and concert dvd’s would you recommend to someone who wants to get a good grasp of this music?
Now with google and youtube one can easily get to a whole load of options. Just search ‘Carnatic classical percussion’ ‘Kanjira’ or ‘North Indian classical percussion’ etc and a whole trail of discovery will present itself. The obvious God of North Indian Tabla is Zakir Hussain. I think he is the greatest living drummer or percussionist. A creative genius, pure and simple.
You are comfortable playing a large variety of world drums – Indian, Arabic, Japanese. Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to expand their skill-set and become a multi-percussionist?
You have to be patient, determined, dedicated, persistent, hard working. Positive and every other quality that pushes you forward with energy. It is also important to be logical and realistic. You are not going to learn Tabla in a day or manage to learn Tabla, Darabouka, Frame drums, Req and Bongos all at the same time. Each instrument has to be intergrated into your system patiently and you have to work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work and work!!! Never give up and don’t be down on yourself ever.
You’ve travelled the world and played with many incredible artists from Bjork to Peter Gabrieal to DJ Judge Jules. Are there any performances or career highs that really stand out as all time favorites for you?
I am very privelleged to love doing what I do and what earns my livelihood. Many different experiences have different pros and cons but they all involve the creative process. The creative process is the most important part of the thing for me. You can strip away technique and leave only the creative process and you will be left with a statement. That does not work the other way around. You will be left with a robot!
One way to really get to the heart of that creative process is to work with people outside of the avenues you are comfortable working in. All the formalities and habits are stripped away and you have to start over. You have to rethink everything you do if you are going to get anywhere musically in these situations. In the absence of too many opportunities like this being available then I started to put together projects, tour and record.
Why not put Bill Bruford together with an African drummer, Classical percussionist, Indian Dhol drum troupe and a craze British hybrid percussionist!! It has led to many interesting and positively challenging collaborations with so many amazing drummers and musicians.
Whatever style of musician there is always a way to find common ground.
I would like you to speak a little about your book titled “Indian Rhythms For Drumset”. What is your target with that?
The book came about over a long period of time as I’d been trying to apply the Indian knowledge to the drum set and it took me many years to do that, to find ways of articulating those rhythms onto the drum set. Slowly it came about through other percussion instruments as everything become ‘one’ and stopped being separate instruments in my mind and I began to think of them as a family of instruments which is why I call myself a multi-percussionist.
I was teaching the South Indian rhythmic system and that became the core of the book. Once I had my approach to the system in place I was able to approach the system in a slightly more abstract way so that the building blocks could be utilized by all musicians. I give people the building blocks and would then move on to whole compositions. I got a lot of positive feedback from students using this method. They could understand and perceive the building blocks and then see how they were built into the larger compositions and themes.
The next logical step was to articulate it onto the drums. Really, the book gives you two things, there is the system that can be for everyone and then there is the application for the drum set. The book contains the South Indian syllables / building blocks and the rhythmic structures and then the applications for anybody to use. I wanted to model the book on the book that covered African drumming on the drum set where the first big chunk is the history, the drums, the idiomatic setting and then the extrapolations on the drum set.
I believe it is a book that will last a long time and is not a moment of fashion that won’t be of interest in five years. The whole development of the book came from the education method so it is kind of organic in that way. It never started out to be a book, but it ended up being one!
Can you tell me about your latest solo release, About Time?
I just released my new solo album ‘About Time’. Much of what I do live is densely layered unison stuff so I wanted to do an album of purely acoustic solos on individual instruments in lots of different time signatures. A lot of the rhythm constructs are ‘Indian’ inspired and weave around a simple accompanying bell or shaker pattern. It is now available online on itunes etc and also on my web site www.petelockett.com
How can we keep up with you, your gigs and future releases?
Email my assistant or me through my web site and keep checking by the news pages there.